COS 41-2
Practice does not make quite perfect but does build student confidence in oral communication Skills

Tuesday, August 6, 2013: 1:30 PM
L100E, Minneapolis Convention Center
Romi L. Burks, Biology, Southwestern University, Georgetown, TX
Eleanor J. Sterling, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY
Ana Luz Porzecanski, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, NY, NY
Nora Bynum, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY
Adriana Bravo, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York City, NY
Denny S. Fernandez, Biology, University of Puerto Rico at Humacao, Humacao, PR
Tom A. Langen, Biology, Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY
Joshua Linder, Anthropology, James Madison University

In an age of limited funding and crowdfunding success stories, the opportunities and necessity for conservationists to communicate their science effectively skyrocket as well. Collaborating in a national pedagogical experiment  (18 institutions), a group of faculty worked with conservation professionals from the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History to design exercises that sought to bolster 21stcentury process skills. Four participants concentrated on curricular reform and assessment standards that emphasized oral communication skills. Professors asked students to give two presentations during a course, one focused on species and one on habitat.  Using a suite of different course styles (i.e. seminar, lecture), we asked four key questions: 1) Does emphasis on a skill improve student confidence and performance?  2) Does repetition of the skill bolster student performance?  3) Can students gain concept knowledge while improving oral communication skills? 4) Does the extent of teaching emphasis influence magnitude of individualized learning gains. We examined individual student learning gains through quantitative assessments that included pre- and post-course surveys of student confidence, detailed rubric scores for components of effective oral presentations and pre- and post-exercise content knowledge questions focused on conservation practice at the species and habitat scale.


To date, our analysis includes students (N=84) in classes where the professor put a "light" emphasis on oral communication skills versus a "heavy" emphasis that included video reflection and discussion. Following data submission from our partners, we will then examine the influence of teaching emphasis (Q4). In terms of confidence (Q1), we found statistically significant gains across the exercises in several elements including the student’s ability to A) distinguish an effective from ineffective presentation, B) to prepare an effective oral presentation and C) to actually delivering an effective presentation. In terms of skills (Q2), significant gains occurred in the student’s delivery and style and ability to properly use visual aids (i.e. PowerPoint). Overall organization, use of supporting evidence or timing did not exhibit similar patterns. We also saw statistically significant gains in content knowledge for both exercises (Q3). Taken together, these results suggest that process skills can benefit students in many different kinds of courses. Furthermore, students can improve certain elements of their oral communication skills in a short time period with the added benefit of knowledge gains. With future analysis, we hope an added emphasis on 21st century process skills by professors will result in even more substantial gains.